Moved by Lord Alton of Liverpool
That this House takes note of (1) the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ estimate that 82.4 million people are displaced worldwide, 42 per cent of whom are children, and 32 per cent of whom are refugees, and (2) the case for an urgent international response to address the root causes of mass displacement.
My Lords, I declare my interests as a trustee of the charity Arise and as co-chair or officer of a number of relevant all-party groups. Seven years ago, I opened a Cross-Bench debate on the challenge posed by the wave of refugees leaving Africa and Asia and pleaded for a co-ordinated, urgent international response. I thank my noble friends for once again recognising the importance of this subject, and express my thanks to all noble Lords speaking today, especially the Minister, and to the Library for its excellent briefing note.
The debate is about push factors rather than the pull factors, which have dominated the consideration that we have been giving to the Nationality and Borders Bill. The Motion draws attention to the estimate of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that 82.4 million people are displaced worldwide, 42% of whom are children and 32% of whom are refugees. It calls for an urgent international response to address the root causes, recognising that this is a complex strategic problem which cannot be addressed without systematic and sustained international co-operation.
Those push factors involve wars and conflicts, persecution and terrorism, destitution, corruption, instability, grinding poverty, man-made phenomena such as climate change, and natural disasters, which drive people out of their homes, communities and countries, risking their lives in doing so. It is about people such as Harem Pirot, a 25-year-old Iraqi Kurd, one of 27 people, mostly Iraqi Kurds, who perished five weeks ago in the world’s busiest shipping lane, having set off from the coast of northern France in a flimsy dinghy. It is about Khazal Ahmed and her three children, who also perished that day in the biggest known number of fatalities in one channel tragedy since refugees began making the perilous journey to Britain. It is about people being displaced from Afghanistan, Burma, Tigray, Nigeria, Venezuela, Eritrea, Syria, Iraq and Sudan, or illegally repatriated by China to North Korea.
To keep our own position in perspective, just 0.65% of the world’s refugees are in the United Kingdom. We take about half the number of asylum seekers that we took 20 years ago. By contrast, the top five countries hosting refugees have more than 9 million in their territories. Of the 82 million displaced people, 55 million are said to be living in internal displacement because of conflict or displacement. Conflict in Syria is in its 12th year. There are 13.5 million displaced Syrians, representing more than half of Syria’s population; 6.7 million Syrian refugees are hosted in 128 countries; and 80% of all Syrian refugees are in neighbouring countries such as Turkey but, like Belarus, its record in using refugees as cannon fodder, and in creating them in the first place, is appalling.
Two years ago, I visited Bardarash refugee camp in northern Iraq, where Kurdish families from Syria had fled after their homes were bombed by Turkish aeroplanes. A mother of four told me that
“the war planes came at four o’clock. As they dropped their bombs and chemicals many children were burnt. Some were killed. We all started to run. I just want to go home with my children, but everything was destroyed, and we would be slaughtered.”
Another Bardarash refugee, Hamid, described how he saw people choking as their homes were burned:
“Children were throwing up and we had to leave the injured behind as we fled.”
Hamza, whose wife, mother of their three year-old daughter, was killed, asked me:
“Where is the justice in letting Erdoğan force Kurdish families to flee their homes? The international community did nothing about it.”
When did it become acceptable for a NATO country to break the Geneva conventions and, potentially, the chemical weapons convention, illegally occupy territory, ethnically cleanse a population and face no investigation, little censure, no Security Council resolution and no consequences? Does it matter that such actions add to the millions of people already caught up in such miserable displacement, denying them the chance just to go home?
As one of the four sponsors of the 2016 amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, on child refugees, it particularly disturbs me that of the 82 million displaced people, 42% are children. Children make up almost 25% of those seeking asylum in the UK and almost half of all identified potential victims of modern slavery or exploitation in our own national referral mechanism. Nelson Mandela was right when he observed:
“The true character of a society is revealed in how it treats its children.”
When a Kurdish child drowns in the English Channel, a Syrian child drowns in the Aegean, or an Eritrean or Nigerian child drowns in the Mediterranean, we must ask what drives families and their children to such desperation? Some refugees spend their entire lives in sprawling, squalid, makeshift camps. Some I visited decades ago are still there.
As a young MP I travelled to Lebanon with the late Lord Avebury. In 1981 we visited Palestinian refugee camps at Shatila and Sabra, where a terrible massacre occurred in 1982. Those camps, two of 68 Palestinian refugee camps, were a perfect breeding and recruiting ground for terror, sucking up people who believed that the future held nothing for them. Shatila, Sabra, Bardarash and places like them are a symbol of the breakdown of global leadership. Millions are paying the price of our abysmal failure to hold perpetrators of atrocities to account.
In Northern Iraq, I met some of the displaced religious and ethnic minorities, including Yazidis, Assyrians and Chaldean Christians, displaced from the Nineveh Plains, Mosul, Sinjar and elsewhere during the ISIS genocide. Despite the best efforts in 2016 of my noble friend Lady Cox, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, and myself, we failed to persuade the Government that a genocide was under way and there is still no ad hoc tribunal to bring to justice those responsible. The veteran diplomat, Dr Richard Haass, is right that in a world of bad options,
“not acting can be every bit as consequential as acting”.
The abysmal failure to act on genocide and atrocity crimes is a major push factor in creating displacement, from Burma to northern Nigeria and from Tigray to Somalia. In Afghanistan, the chaotic withdrawal of the US and the return to power of Taliban death squads has resulted in thousands of people fleeing, whether in official state and NGO-organised evacuations or by resorting to smugglers and human traffickers. The most at risk include thousands of people from religious or belief minorities, including small groups of Christians, Sikhs, Ahmadis, Uighurs and others substantial in number, such as the Hazara Shias. Women are generally at risk, especially those who have been in powerful positions, including women judges, lawyers and politicians, and women in medicine, education and journalism. The list goes on.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, will speak later. She has done such admirable work, with a Kindertransport-inspired airlift of 103 at-risk women and their families—close to 500 people airlifted on private charter planes to Greece, which has been a lily pad. However, as their temporary visas come to expire, countries such as the UK continue to delay implementing their promised resettlement programme. Can the Minister tell us what has caused the delay and when it will be resolved?
Can he also spell out how he is responding to the Bishop of Truro’s 2019 report, commissioned by the then Foreign Secretary? It found that in some regions the “level and nature” of the persecution of Christians was
“arguably coming close to meeting the international definition of genocide according to that adopted by the UN”.
What assessment has the Minister made of FoRB as a driver pushing refugees such as the Pakistani Ahmadis and Christians, whom I have seen for myself in refugee detention centres in south-east Asia? Will he tell us what is being done by our embassies to help resettle religious minorities and what priority is being given to combating persecution and upholding Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a major push factor all over the world?
In south-east Asia, I also visited Karen refugee camps established decades ago, which are now seeing new influxes as Burmese ethnic minorities are subjected to fierce attacks by the Tatmadaw following their illegal coup. Many are living on the run in the jungles of Myanmar. In Burma, I met Rohingya Muslims and visited a burned-out village. Even before the coup, 800,000 Rohingya Muslims were subjected to genocide and forced to flee to Bangladesh, while Christian minorities in Chin state and elsewhere have been, and continue to be, subjected to terrible atrocity crimes. Will the Government consider providing urgently needed humanitarian aid to internally displaced peoples through cross-border delivery?
In autumn 2020, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and I raised in this House the consequences of the conflict in Tigray. One year later, just before Christmas, the United Nations Human Rights Council established a UN inquiry that will monitor the crimes and preserve the evidence for future generations, with notable votes cast against doing that by China, Russia and Eritrea. Welcome though that motion is, it will do nothing to reverse the mass displacement of 2 million people forced to flee their homes. Hundreds of thousands of people are in famine-like conditions and are starving. The catastrophic conflict continues to expand, devastating the whole region. If the political will had been there, these atrocities, the pain, suffering, displacement and much more besides could have been prevented
Meanwhile, the World Bank and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, along with the Minister himself in evidence given at a recent hearing of the International Relations and Defence Select Committee, have warned that rising sea levels and climate change will displace millions more. Post COP 26, how are we preparing to meet that challenge? How are we ensuring that displaced people and refugees, already at the bottom of the pile, are receiving Covid vaccinations—a point raised by my noble friend Lord Hylton during Questions today—and are not part of what the United Nations High Commission for Refugees calls
“a substantial vaccine equity gap”?
What assessment have we made of its estimate that 30 million more people will be facing hunger by the end of this decade than if the pandemic had not occurred? A point often referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and others is our cuts to overseas aid, the subject of a Cross-Bench debate on
The UK has some generous and worthwhile initiatives, but clearly we cannot meet these interlinked challenges alone or by hoping that the problem will simply go away. It will not. With our allies, global Britain needs to drive this issue right up the international agenda. We should be convening summits, commissioning hard-headed humanitarian solutions, tackling the problem at its roots and creating secure, safe havens in which people can prosper and make new lives. We need something on the imaginative scale of the US-inspired 1948 Marshall aid programme, which rebuilt western Europe.
Along the coast of north Africa, we should be building new Carthages—a series of new, UN-protected, small city states—using brilliant Israeli and other western technology to create renewable energy for water desalination, electricity and the production of food. If this was done under a UN mandate, it might turn the UN into something other than a spectator.
Instead of a well-thought-out international plan of action, we have near silence in the UK’s 2021 integrated review. If we are to be what the review calls “a force for good”, we need to turn the rhetoric into deeds. In addition to the altruistic reasons for doing so, the Government should follow the logic of their own argument when they say that, for the cost of helping 3,000 refugees who arrive in Britain, the UK could help 100,000 refugees in camps overseas. It is what the Norwegian Government do; their Minister for Immigration and Integration, Sylvi Listhaug, believes not only that the rich world has a moral duty to help refugees but that the deployment of 1% of its GDP on foreign aid should be used to tackle the refugee problem at source. Other countries should be persuaded by us, but we need to lead by example.
It is an echo of a remark made in a debate in 1940 by the formidable independent MP, Eleanor Rathbone, who established the Parliamentary Committee on Refugees and argued that responding to the plight of refugees was
“not only in the interests of humanity and of the refugees, but in the interests of security itself”.—[
Today’s Motion is about facing up to the global duty to understand why mass migration is rapidly on the rise and how we in the rich North need to respond not by endless barriers but by serious and intentional economic, social and democratic investment to support building lives of dignity, way beyond our borders. It is in their interests and in the common interests of humanity, but it is in our interests too. If we fail to do this, there will be many more fatal tragedies, many more Harem Pirots and Khazal Ahmeds. There will be many more camps, and many more lives devoid of human dignity and opportunity. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is always a challenge to follow the noble Lord, Lord Alton, because he covers such a broad range with such expertise. In my brief comments, I will cover just one small matter. Before I do, I draw attention to my register of interests and the matters declared there.
I want to look not at government but, as was indicated in an article in the Guardian on Monday, at the involvement of major corporations and businesses—in this case, Coca-Cola. I cited Coca-Cola as sponsor of the Beijing Games next month and asked what it is doing there. Why is it there? Should it be there? I think I am correctly interpreting the comments that I have received about my proposal that those who consume Coca-Cola—and I happen to—should not consume it for the next two months. I am pleased that people such as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans have indicated that they take the same view on that intervention.
Sporting events go to a particular location because they know they will get the finance. That comes, in large part, not from individuals but from sponsors. Coca-Cola is pouring tens of millions, possibly $100 million or more, into the Beijing Olympics. It therefore has questions to answer, and they have to come from the top, from Atlanta, where Coca-Cola is based. I am asking a question of what is probably the most centralised company with which I have ever worked, Coca-Cola, and of its chief executive, who happens to be a British national. Will he answer the question of what it is doing in Beijing?
Last night, I went on to the web page of the Coca- Cola Company in Atlanta. It has six headings; one is “Better Shared Future”. How ironic that one of the five items it identifies is human rights. It says:
“Respect for human rights is a fundamental value of ours.”
Tell that to the Uighurs and to the people in Hong Kong, who are losing their security on a daily, or hourly, basis. On the same page of the Coca-Cola corporation’s main website, it says:
“Dedicated to using our voice and position to support equality, justice and universal values across various diverse groups.”
Tell that to the Uighurs and the people of Hong Kong. Mr Quincey, as chief executive of the Coca-Cola corporation, could you please explain to the public at large why those phrases are on your web page? Can you make them stand up?
I ask that question of Mr Quincey, who, as I say, is a British national. He spent part of his youth at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. He was educated at King Edward’s School in Birmingham. Some time in the next two months, I would like him to provide one hour to a panel of students from Dartmouth and King Edward’s explaining what Coca-Cola is doing to protect the fundamental rights of individuals in China.
In conclusion, a phrase that Coca-Cola uses is about achieving “share of throat”. The throats of the Uighurs and the residents of Hong Kong are silent. I would like Mr Quincey to explain to the students of Dartmouth and King Edward’s in Birmingham why.
My Lords, I believe the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, has scratched. Therefore, rather than winding for the Liberal Democrats, I am not only opening but speaking a lot earlier, and am down to four minutes, rather than the 10 that I was anticipating. So I will confine my remarks primarily to the situation in Afghanistan.
As my noble friend Lord Alton said in opening, this is a debate about massed forced migration. It is about push factors, not pull factors. It is not about why individuals might seek to come to the United Kingdom, Germany or other countries, but about the factors that are forcing people to leave their homes, countries and regions of origin.
The numbers of those people who feel the need to flee are absolutely breath-taking. The pressure that those people who are refugees, asylum seekers or internally displaced—84 million people globally—put on neighbouring countries can be significant. Those who seem to think that the UK has too many asylum seekers—people seeking refuge here—forget that in Turkey, one in 23 people is a refugee. In Jordan it is one in 14 and in Lebanon one in eight. Millions and millions of people feel they need to leave, not to seek a better life in a general materialistic sense but because they are fleeing war, poverty, genocide, hate speech in Myanmar, and Hindu nationalism, which is forcing more than a million Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh.
In mid-2021, the UNHCR believed that 2.6 million Afghans had already fled their homes. That was before Kabul fell to the Taliban. How many more tens and hundreds of thousands of people have now moved? Could the Minister tell us what assessment Her Majesty’s Government have made of the impact of the US withdrawal on individuals and their families in Afghanistan—not just the date that the 20,000 people under the ACRS might expect to come here, but how many people are being forced to flee? As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, pointed out, 42% of displaced people are children, and in Afghanistan those people fleeing the Taliban because they worked with the US and the United Kingdom are not just individual men—they would very often be men—but their wives, sisters, mothers and children. What are Her Majesty’s Government doing to ensure that those people who worked with us, for us and alongside us can be given some sense that they can get out and that they will not keep living in holes without any money? When I say “holes”, I mean that. There are individual cases of people who worked for the British Council saying that they no longer have anywhere to live and that they are on a Taliban list. What are Her Majesty’s Government doing at least to deal with this aspect of push migration?
My Lords, the UN has defined forcibly displaced persons as those who are
“forced to move, within or across borders, due to armed conflict, persecution, terrorism, human rights violations and abuses, violence, the adverse effects of climate change, natural disasters, development projects or a combination of these factors”.
As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, outlined in his very important and moving speech, there are 82.4 million people across the world in this situation. It is a truly shocking and awful predicament and one we must take urgent action to address.
However, one group that often gets ignored and yet very often ends up being displaced as per the UN definition is widows. A conservative estimate by the organisation Widows for Peace through Democracy is that there are 258 million widows. This includes half widows: those married to missing or forcibly disappeared husbands. There are also estimated to be 1.5 million child widows. We know that these estimates are conservative as very little data is collected internationally on widows. What do the Government intend to do to improve data collection on widows globally?
Widows very often end up being displaced and forced to move from their homes. The human rights of widows around the world are all too often breached, and when their husbands die they too often lose their homes and are denied any form of welfare or income. These women are often vulnerable to sexual exploitation and trafficking, including child widows, who may be very young.
Like most displaced people, widows often lack legal documentation, and they may end up struggling to seek asylum in countries such as the UK. In most cases, these women will not make it that far once they have been displaced.
The Covid-19 pandemic has meant that there are far more widows in the world today. Sadly, many will find themselves displaced and in a very difficult situation. A recent World Bank report on the subject found that widows in Africa faced lower welfare and nutritional status. Again, there has been very little research into this, so the data we have is extremely limited.
Some 27 years after the Beijing declaration on gender equality, it seems that we still have not come that far regarding the rights of widows internationally. In addressing the root causes of mass displacement, we must not forget women and in particular widows, who all too often find themselves in these terrible situations.
My Lords, I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on securing this debate. I am grateful to him for personifying the issue by naming individuals. I visited camps for internally displaced people in Iraqi Kurdistan several years ago. I am still haunted by the faces, not always the voices. When you are confronted with a 12 year-old boy who had not spoken since being forced to watch his father be beheaded outside his front door, then it is the faces, not the voices. They haunt me.
As Desmond Tutu observed, although it is possibly misquoted, “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.” What he actually might have said is: find out who or what is pushing then in. Yesterday in this House we discussed the Nationality and Borders Bill. That legislation focuses on asylum and refugees almost entirely through the lens of deterrence and enforcement. It contains a lot of measures to make it harder to prove refugee status and to prevent pull factors, but there is nothing at all on going upstream to find out why they are falling in or being pushed in. This debate is therefore critical in this context. Until we can take action to prevent people falling in, all the deterrence policies in the world are unlikely to stop an ever greater flow of displaced peoples. What happens when the irresistible force meets the immovable object? That is what we are talking about.
In this context, I will add a few remarks on climate and displacement. While the UK retains COP presidency and the Government are in the business of rethinking international norms around refugee law, perhaps we might hear from the Minister what thought, if any, has been given to climate displacement and refugee policy. There is no such thing, legally speaking, as a climate refugee. There is a growing wave of people displaced by climate and weather events. Of the 82.4 million people displaced worldwide, the UNHCR reports that about a quarter are forcibly displaced by sudden-onset weather-related hazards and thousands more from slow-onset hazards linked to climate change. Tens of millions of people are likely to be displaced over the next two or three decades due in large measure to climate change impacts.
These changes have been recognised for some time as a long-term driver of displacement, especially in the absence of appropriate mitigation and adaptation support for communities. Some £100 billion a year in climate finance was promised in the COP process, but it has not been delivered. This target is not likely to be met until 2023, so there is not just a shortfall in the finance but it is skewed in favour of mitigation, such as renewable energy projects, rather than adaptation, such as flood defences and so on. Global south nations have been calling for more funding for adaptation, and some progress was made in the Glasgow climate pact when developed nations were called on to double, at least, their collective provision of climate finance for adaptation from 2019 levels by 2025. This falls a long way short of what is needed. We need an urgent international response on all these fronts.
I have focused my remarks on climate displacement but there is a thread in this: that our national approach to refugees and asylum is doomed to failure unless we acknowledge, understand and confront the push factors that are driving displacement. This cannot be accomplished simply by deterrence and enforcement, no matter how draconian the regime that we install.
My Lords, in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for giving us this opportunity to debate what is, and ought to be, a top priority for our national agenda and the global agenda, I also thank him for, and congratulate him on, introducing the debate in his usual well-researched and comprehensive way. I fully support his suggested way forward. I also thank the House of Lords Library for the excellent briefing on which I have relied, since, I must confess, I have not read the full United Nations report.
I wish to concentrate on the second part of the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Alton: the case for an urgent international response to address the root causes of mass displacement. The United Nations’ definition of those root causes is important and broad but does not apparently include the breakdown or failure of proper democratic systems. This has occurred in a number of countries—I cite Venezuela and Haiti as examples, although in the latter country natural disasters have undoubtedly added to the chaos there. If people feel that the rule of law no longer exists and that their vote does not count, they are just as likely to feel they have no future in their home country as someone persecuted for religious or other freedoms.
The other omission is the failure to deal not just with what happens to people when they reach their final destination country but with how they get there. Any international response must include consideration of how people move from A to B. Not everyone can afford to fly; we have witnessed on our television screens, for example, the masses of people moving on foot through central American countries and Mexico towards the United States. I am told that many Africans now cross the Atlantic in order to join those human chains. I know that there are Venezuelans, most of whom have fled to Colombia, and others who have had to make their way through Brazil and Bolivia in order to reach Chile. Some of these people may be classed as economic migrants, but how are the transit countries supposed to distinguish? Therefore, I believe that any international response must take account of the needs of transit countries, to enable them to cope with these influxes. Any international response must take into account the many unaccompanied children and deal with the people traffickers who mislead and exploit vulnerable people.
The movement of peoples is not new. Those of us who have had the privilege of visiting the fantastic museum of anthropology in Mexico City have seen how the Americas were peopled way before 1492 and European colonisation. Modern communications enable us to be immediately more conscious of what is going on. That knowledge must lead us to find some way to improve and resolve these issues throughout the world. It must be a priority for global co-operation. The United Nations is the global organisation we subscribe to in order to preserve world peace and to cope with climate change, pandemics and much more. Can my noble friend the Minister reassure us that the United Kingdom will take the lead in this respect?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for enabling this debate and for his excellent introduction. I refer noble Lords to my interests in the register, and I must apologise to the House for omitting to make this reference when I asked a Question on
The numbers cited are vast and shameful. Each number is a human being, like you and me, with the same physical and emotional needs. They are, however, far more resilient than most of us, cut off from their country and culture, often having suffered the trauma of war, civil unrest, hunger and persecution. Most have tenacity, talents and potential for which the world is in great need, but this is squandered at enormous cost to the individuals themselves and the world. We are talking about more than 30 million children, many of whom have few opportunities for education, little or no hope and stunted dreams. It is unconscionable that this situation is allowed in the 21st century when we have the knowledge, wealth and capacity to address the issues that cause mass displacement. Unless we address the root causes now, including climate change, the crisis will grow.
It is not a crisis for us, the developed, wealthy world; it is a crisis for the people who are displaced and often for the countries from whence they came. Our integrated but unequal world is desperate for an urgent international response but global leadership is severely lacking—and I suggest that it is certainly not going to come from this country at the moment. We have a moral duty to act, but it is also in our self-interest. The situation in Afghanistan is a tragic but perfect illustration. Unless the world comes together to provide the necessary humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, the whole country will be living in absolute poverty, with millions of Afghans faced with starvation, and thousands will continue to seek refuge in other countries, including the UK.
I could not participate in yesterday’s Second Reading of the appalling borders Bill, and I will not rehearse the powerful arguments against the Bill, but I am deeply concerned about the hostile narrative that it fosters. So many refugees and asylum seekers feel unworthy and they continue to suffer stigma in this country, notwithstanding the work of organisations and networks such as City of Sanctuary, which in turn gave birth to Universities of Sanctuary. I am very proud that Somerville College and Mansfield College are the first university colleges of sanctuary, creating an environment of support and welcome and working with students, academics and the local community. We award sanctuary scholarships to refugees such as Asif, who travelled alone to Britain from Afghanistan aged just 14 in order to avoid being conscripted by the Taliban. He is now excelling in his studies and will make a great contribution to society. Sadly, higher education is something that only 3% of refugees in this country experience—another of the immeasurable challenges they face.
I should briefly mention the work of CARA, the Council for At-Risk Academics, which provides a lifeline to academics at risk and is supported by many universities, including Oxford. I pay tribute to charities such as Asylum Welcome, which is doing a superb job in welcoming Afghan refugees to Oxfordshire and providing invaluable, practical help and support, as it does to all refugees and asylum seekers in the county. It enables the teaching of English, provides youth services and domestic abuse support, helps people into employment and so much more.
I have an extraordinary young Afghan refugee living with me, Freshta Karim, a children’s rights activist who founded a charity, Charmaghz, which provided mobile libraries to enable young people in Afghanistan to have a better education. In November, she addressed the UN Security Council. I asked her what she, as a refugee, most wanted. Her response was: “peace”. No displaced person wants to leave their home and their family. They have to do so because their country is riven with conflict or ravaged by the impact of climate change. She thought that the UN should not just be a provider of aid in Afghanistan, important though that is. It should bring the different stakeholders together, as we did in Northern Ireland.
We should listen to the millions of people such as Freshta who are exhausted by conflict and war and desperate for peace and stability, who have so much to give and want to give back to the communities in which they find sanctuary, and who ultimately want to bring about change in their own country.
My Lords, with respect, I remind noble Lords of the four-minute Back-Bench speaking time. We are running over and obviously, that eats into the Minister’s ability to respond.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, not only for securing this debate but for once again being a prophetic voice among us and reminding us of the serious moral challenge we face on this issue.
It is important to begin by stating the obvious, because it is so often easy to forget the obvious. If the root cause of the refugee problem is conflict, the first priority is to prevent that conflict in the first place and to bring conflicts that have started to a halt. This highlights the need for wise foreign policy and good diplomacy. Take the issue almost on our doorstep, the tension now gearing up over Ukraine and the number of people who could flee if a serious conflict broke out there. The priority is, as it always was, good statecraft and serious diplomacy.
Secondly, at the moment the main burden of the refugee problem is being borne in the middle to low-income countries on the borders of those countries where there is violence. I am no fan of Erdoğan’s Turkey, for the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, outlined, but Turkey is at present hosting 3.7 million refugees, mainly from Syria. We also note that Uganda has nearly 1.5 million, mainly from South Sudan, and Pakistan also nearly 1.5 million, mainly from Afghanistan. In Europe it is the poorer, smaller countries such as Greece that have to bear the real burden and responsibility for those who cross the Mediterranean.
There are two reasons in particular for giving attention and support to these countries: first, as mentioned, because they bear the main burden; and secondly because it is highly desirable that refugees are settled back in their own countries as soon as it is safe to do so. They are much more likely to be able to do that if they are temporarily placed nearby. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi was absolutely right in emphasising these two points when he said:
“The international community is failing to prevent violence, persecution and human rights violations, which continue to drive people from their homes … It is the communities and countries with the fewest resources that continue to shoulder the greatest burden in … caring for the forcibly displaced”.
To address these issues, he called on the international community to
“redouble its efforts to make peace”, while ensuring that
“resources are available to displaced communities and their hosts.”
In response to that situation, in 2018 the Government signed up to an international agreement on support for refugees and reforming the global humanitarian situation: the Global Compact on Refugees. It provided the basis for a co-ordinated international response to improve support for refugees and share the responsibility for hosting them more fairly among wealthy and poorer countries. However, this agreement is not legally binding and internally displaced persons are not represented in it.
I simply ask the Minister: what progress has been made on this global compact in the last three years? Has the international response become more effective and co-ordinated than it was? Finally, in what way have our drastic cuts in foreign aid affected this programme and our support for that global compact?
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for initiating this most important debate and for his excellent introduction, which has set the scene for us all.
We face not a static situation but one that is constantly changing. Since the start of 2020, we have seen the re-emergence of conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, bringing back the displacement that characterised the conflicts in the 1980s and 1990s. Ethiopia’s ongoing civil conflict has left just over 2 million internally displaced people in Tigray and a further 250,000 in the region of Amhara, according to the UN. We have seen the military coup in Myanmar, which has done nothing to improve—indeed, it has made worse—any prospect of resettling the estimated 745,000 beleaguered Rohingya Muslims resident in Cox’s Bazar, now the world’s largest refugee camp.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, rightly calls for an urgent international response. That surely must be rooted above all in recapturing the vision behind the UN and the need for international law. Anything less than that will fail in delivering what is so urgently needed. That is what we need in the long run, and it will require global Britain to give a strong moral lead, as well as playing its own part in trade and other aspects of our world. In addition, therefore, we need to restore urgently our international aid budget. It is shameful that, at a time when the world faces such incredible problems, we have pulled back from what was actually a very modest contribution we were making. I know others will pick up on this later, but I believe this is fundamental.
We need to use those international budgets carefully, of course. We all know that there are cases in which money has not been used wisely. I am absolutely convinced that the most important thing we can do is to provide grass-roots training, education, health work and the development of low-tech, sustainable industries that will remain there even when countries go through famines, wars and so on. We need to use them carefully, but our international aid budgets are a fundamental part of this.
Secondly, it will require global Britain to act consistently in response to situations where there are causes of mass migrations. This means that in certain situations we may need, with partners, to boycott some international sporting events. I know that some people say these are just small symbols, but they are powerful symbols to a world where such dreadful suffering is going on. It certainly means that we need to use Magnitsky sanctions judiciously, where appropriate, to signal to the international community when the actions of Governments are simply unacceptable. The trouble with this is that it will be costly for us and affect some of our international trade.
Thirdly—I do not need to say so much about this as the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, put it so eloquently—we need to engage with businesses working internationally, some of which are quite blatantly not living up to the values they have spelt out as the basis of their work.
Lastly, we need to engage with charities and religious bodies, many of which have access to the grass-roots communities that Governments and the UN do not. Our efforts will fail unless we can pull together a strong, consistent, comprehensive approach drawing on a wide group of stakeholders.
My Lords, it is conventional to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on securing this topical and timely debate, and I do so wholeheartedly—all the more so because our debate today draws together the many threads of a series of migration crises around the world and their principal drivers. Some are mainly driven by security considerations—think Syria, Afghanistan, Ethiopia or Myanmar—and some by mainly economic considerations; think sub-Saharan Africa to Europe, or Latin America to the US. One thing they all have in common is that we, the international community, are not addressing them very effectively or in a very humane fashion. Another is that they cannot be so addressed by neglect, denial, building walls or ignoring our obligations under international law.
When it comes to the root causes of displacement in this modern world, the security ones cannot possibly be ignored. The experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan mean that there are highly unlikely to be coalitions of the willing ready to step forward in the foreseeable future to deal with the challenges of state failure and of gross breaches of international humanitarian law, so, however imperfect their efforts have so far proved to be, we are going to have to put more reliance on the UN and on such regional organisations as the African Union working in concert with the UN.
Our own contribution to UN peacekeeping can most politely be described as modest. We surely need to do more, particularly by supplying the ever more complex requirements of multifaceted peacekeeping. We need to strengthen the UN Secretary-General’s capacity for conflict prevention and to encourage António Guterres, just starting his second term of office, to make more use of Article 99 of the UN charter to bring matters, on his own responsibility, to the Security Council. If that is to be effective, it will also require restoring a greater willingness of its permanent members to work together. We should look again at the toolbox available to implement the responsibility to protect, focusing on a much wider agenda than that of military intervention.
The economic drivers of displacement are complex and daunting too, but they surely all require helping developing countries to build their economies, to provide employment for their growing populations, to have better educational opportunities for women and girls in particular, to have better primary healthcare systems and to be better equipped to mitigate and reverse the effects of climate change. All those policies require resources, which is what makes the Government’s decision to ignore our commitment in law to devote 0.7% of our GNI to overseas aid and, alone among the G7, impose drastic cuts on our aid budget just when it is most needed so aberrant and so urgent to be reversed.
What are we doing to give developing countries better trade access? There is not a single African or Latin American country on our priority list for negotiating free trade agreements. What are we doing to use our competition policy powers to make private transfers and remittances to developing countries less costly? It is a statement of the obvious to say that this country cannot hope to deal on its own with the root causes of displacement, which will require major collective effort if they are to be counted. That calls for close co-operation with like-minded developing countries, our fellow Europeans, the US, Commonwealth countries and Japan, and it will require working with developing countries in a spirit of genuine partnership, unlike the leadership-driven approaches of the past. On our success in playing an active role in those wider aspects will depend our success in promoting global policies for years to come and in gaining acceptance for our claim, as yet unsubstantiated, to represent a “global Britain”.
My Lords, I join in the congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, not only on initiating this debate but on his consistent commitment to the cause of refugees and displaced persons. It is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who is the voice of common sense, reason and insight, and we enjoy listening to his speeches.
I have the privilege of serving on the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, where we have a migration committee and we co-operate with the Council of Europe, but of course we are looking more at migration movements into Europe than we are its root causes. We have to accept, and public opinion needs to be prepared for this, that movements of populations towards this country, towards Europe and indeed all over the world will continue, exacerbated not only by wars, conflict, tension and persecution but by climate change. We have to accept that such movements will be the norm rather than deciding that, like King Canute, we can somehow stop the tide.
I join in the condemnation of our mean, niggardly approach to overseas aid. The 0.7% commitment was good—not enough, but good—but we have moved away from it. For us to be cutting it, at a time when the need for an increased overseas aid budget is paramount, is niggardly. I only hope that the Government will change their mind. Our reputation as a country and, above all, our commitment to tackling root causes surely depend upon a decent overseas aid budget. Instead we are seeing miserable approaches such as pushbacks, whether in Croatia or Bosnia, on the Belarus border or in the Mediterranean—or indeed whether we initiate them, as we saw in yesterday’s debate. Surely that is not the right way to move forward.
We should acknowledge what other countries are doing. We may not be fans of the Turkish Government in all respects, but at least they have 3 million to 4 million refugees while the Lebanese are getting on for a million, as are the Jordanians. When people say to me, “Why don’t Muslim countries do more?”, I point out the millions that there are in those countries whereas we are arguing about a small number of people, albeit an important number, who seek to make their way here, and indeed the small numbers who get to Europe other than to Germany.
I want to say two other things. First, it is important that we have public opinion on our side in attempting to explain why tackling the root causes is important, and that it is the best way of dealing with these enormous migration flows. Secondly, we have to be aware of the far right in Europe, who are seeking to exploit the refugee argument for their own miserable political ends. We have, unfortunately, seen how the far right in Europe have achieved electoral successes, some in Germany—in Hungary they are always there—and in Italy, Austria and elsewhere. That is very depressing. I believe the only way to tackle the far right is to make sure that public opinion understands what we are about and we do not have Ministers saying “We don’t want these people here”, because that is exactly the way in which public opinion is not going to be sympathetic to this.
Lastly, there are success stories and Canada is one of them. We should look at Canada and see what it is doing, both internationally and in terms of accepting refugees. Canada is a good example of what can be done, and maybe we should emulate it.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for raising this important subject. We often focus on the consequences of displacement, the exploitation of refugees, the impact on host communities and the challenges of coming up with solutions. It is important to look at the causes too, and to consider what we in Britain can do about them.
We know that the principal causes of mass displacement are climate change and natural disasters, political and armed conflict, ethnic cleansing and trafficking. Around a quarter of a million people are currently displaced in Myanmar due to the conflict there since February last year. Within Afghanistan the figure for internal displacement, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, is 665,000, 80% of whom are women and children. Those displaced due to climate change since 2010, according to the same organisation, number more than 20 million. The question today is not what we could have done to prevent the coup in Myanmar or the situation in Afghanistan, or what we should have done over the last century to avoid the climate impacts that are already a reality, but what we can do together to address the causes. The key to addressing them must be to work towards delivering the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals, which include climate action, peace, justice, strong institutions, eradicating poverty and hunger and promoting education and gender equality.
On climate change, the Government are playing an important leadership role that must not end when our presidency of COP 26 finishes. The Minister is to be commended on his commitment to this most important issue. Beyond that, Britain is well positioned to offer a leading contribution through science and in the areas of economic empowerment, trade, education for girls, conflict resolution and sustainable cities and communities, and by supporting the many British businesses and NGOs in delivering aid and expertise around the world. I hope the Minister will ensure that this issue is addressed in the forthcoming international development strategy.
Finally, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, for elaborating on the plight of widows around the world. However, I add here that the number of widows has, over the past two years, increased by millions around the world on account of Covid-19. I declare my interest as founder and chairman-trustee of the Loomba Foundation. I ask the Minister: what are the UK Government doing to help the Covid widows financially, and to overcome their mental and bereavement sufferings?
My Lords, I add my voice to all others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for bringing this debate to the Floor of the House. I would just translate a change in the wording of the Motion from percentages into numbers, so that we can remind ourselves that we are living in a world where 36.4 million children count as displaced persons and 26.3 million people are refugees. These are horrible figures to contemplate.
Faced with the size of the problem, the United Nations is bringing forward its global compact. I am so happy that my noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries, if he will allow me to call him that, has given it such ample recognition. The United Kingdom is one of 181 nations to endorse the programme. Its principles are to be implemented through the more than 1,400 pledges made by Governments, civil society and other stakeholders at the first Global Refugee Forum in December 2019. It offers, as he said, a legally non- binding and readily accessible framework document under which states agree that they will share equitably the responsibility for refugees.
A two-year opening phase of this programme was launched just a month ago in Geneva. It describes itself as offering a breakthrough in addressing some of the acknowledged difficulties surrounding the implementation of the United Nations convention and its protocol. This represents an urgent international response and should be given proper notice. There was scant mention of it, however, in yesterday’s Second Reading on the Nationality and Borders Bill. Yet it is a major attempt by the United Nations to deal with the current state of affairs and deserves to be given proper focus—I hope it will be—at later stages in the consideration of that Bill.
In yesterday’s debate, both Ministers were adamant that the Bill we were discussing in no way undermined the international agreements and conventions to which we are a party. Yet a 72-page document from the UNHCR spells out not only the way in which we in the United Kingdom risk being in breach of our commitments, but how the proposals in our Bill would effectively undermine the complex international structures at a more general level. As an ordinary Member of this House, it seems important to me that somebody with authority and a full understanding of both arguments—the United Kingdom case and the UNHCR case—should explain to the House how to reconcile these apparently divergent narratives.
In my contribution to yesterday’s debate, I urged our lawyers and judges to help us in this regard. These are matters of law, after all. The Bill is proving worrisome to a broad phalanx of organisations in civil society and across the globe. They out there at large, as well as we here in this House, deserve satisfaction as we seek to find our way forward on this matter.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to hear the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths. While thanking my noble friend Lord Alton for this opportunity, I will focus on the Palestinian refugee crisis that culminated in the creation of Israel in 1948 and has continued ever since.
The Motion today includes the phrase “root causes”. In the case of Palestine, we have to go back many centuries but after 1945 Britain, alongside other European powers, had the responsibility to encourage the two communities to live together. We failed miserably, at a cost to our own soldiers and police at the hands of the Zionists. This story is easily forgotten today alongside many other dramas. Today, there are still 6 million to 7 million refugees from that period, plus over 700,000 displaced people.
The worst massacres, such as at Deir Yassin on
Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza still live under foreign occupation after 73 years. They depend to a great extent on the services provided by UNRWA, the UN agency designated to help them. But their situation is worse than that of refugees, in the sense that they are treated as second-class citizens, shuttled between barriers and barbed wire and wholly dependent on Israel for permissions. They are often left without a means of livelihood; they also have to live in diminishing space. Recently, I watched a video showing abandoned Palestinian villages overshadowed by Israeli settlements and streets where the two communities live divided by the wall, one of them overlooked by watchtowers as in a prison camp. Progressive demolition of houses in favour of new settlements continues.
Many NGOs and human rights agencies are making the case for Palestinians, including some within Israel. However, the Israeli Government have recently outlawed half a dozen local NGOs as agents of terrorism, and the UK has unwisely decided to proscribe the political wing of Hamas. In my view, our present Government are going backwards and urgently need to rebuild our reputation as a state wishing to see justice for the Palestinians. I should say at this point that my wife is chair of PalMusic UK, a charity that helps Palestinian musicians. It has perennial problems in obtaining all the necessary permits to allow musicians to travel, even within and between Palestinian territories.
Now that we have left the EU, are we not falling back in influence in the Middle East? Have we abandoned the two-state solution altogether and what is the UK position on the so-called Abraham accords, which draw a few Arab states into economic and, above all, security arrangements with Israel? The Biden Government have not so far stepped back from these agreements, although in September Mr Kushner feared that if they
“are not nurtured, we run the risk that they could go backward.”
The Minister will know more about this, so I would be grateful if he could share the information.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this debate and so powerfully introducing it by setting out the human reality of displacement, particularly for children. We have already had a very rich and informed, if distressing, debate.
I particularly commend the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Hayward. I regret the fact that I cannot boycott Coca-Cola myself, because I never drink the vile stuff, although I have once or twice used it as a cleaning fluid. Its impact on grime certainly raises questions about its impact on the people who ingest it—but I promise him that I will not use it in the next two months.
Some 16 years ago, in 2005, the world’s nations collectively signed up to a responsibility to protect the world’s people from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. There are three pillars in that: each state should protect its own people, other states should provide international assistance and capacity building to ensure that other states can protect, and there should be a timely and decisive collective response when states fail.
As this debate and the UNHCR have made clear, war crimes and genocide are having a big impact on the displacement of people. If we are looking at the root causes of mass displacement, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, set us to do, there is a patently obvious missing pillar in that responsibility to protect agreement. You might call it a Hippocratic pillar: do not create and continue the conditions that allow genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity to flourish. We really need to think about the world that we have created and been such a powerful force in. One in 95 people in the world is displaced. We should look at that figure with horror.
So I want to be practical. I have three suggestions for the Minister that might live up to the UK’s Hippocratic responsibility not to do harm. First, end our arms sales; stop pumping out arms into a world already awash with them. We are the second largest arms exporter in the world. Between 2011 and 2020, the majority of UK defence exports—60%—went to the Middle East. That is a cause of the great issue that we are discussing now.
Secondly, we need to stop buying goods from around the world. We have already talked quite a bit about goods from Xinjiang, where a people subject to genocide are also subject to forced labour, producing IT goods and medical supplies that we consume and use. But of course it is much broader than that. In south-east Asia, palm oil is a major driver of deforestation, environmental destruction and the consequent impact on states and their ability to protect their people.
Thirdly, and most obviously and importantly, we need to rein in our companies, particularly miners but also bankers, consultants and lawyers, who profit from corruption in the global south that causes the breakdown of countries. We are the problem here; we are causing many of these problems.
If noble Lords do not want to accept the moral argument for change, I put to them the self-interest argument: the wealth that we have extracted cannot protect us in this unstable and unequal world, where so many people are forced to be on the move.
My Lords, I, too, wish to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for introducing this debate with his usual humanity and well-informed compassion. This debate calls for an international response to the shocking fact that, globally, 84 million people are displaced. It is a misery index of record proportions. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, and others documented the basis and root causes of so many of those people moving. People do not choose to leave their homes, extended families and communities unless they have very good reason.
As a human rights lawyer over many years, my work has taught me about inhumanity and the pain experienced by those at the receiving end. Like the noble Lord, Lord Alton, I have visited lots of the refugee camps where the wretched of the earth are collected: Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon and the Jordan camps, where people have fled from Syria. More recently, I have gone to Erbil to take testimonies from the Yazidi women who were raped and raped, over and over again. I saw girls who, having returned to their Yazidi families, had to abandon babies who would not be accepted by their communities because they had been produced as a result of the rapes by ISIL militia.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned my recent work. My young team—there were only four of us —worked to evacuate the women judges, lawyers and journalists from Afghanistan. It is shocking that the international community failed so greatly to do something that we ended up having to do. Why should a small group of people have to think, “How are we going to get these women judges out, who are on a Taliban kill list?” It should have been nations that came together and said, “What are we going to do? How do we evacuate? Who are we going to offer places to?”
That should have been done, and this emergency should have been prepared for. However, we are seeing a retreat from internationalism, and that is the difficulty when we call for an international response, because international collaboration is basically what will do the business of responding to these horrors. I recently read a lecture given just before Christmas by David Miliband, who was the director-general of the International Rescue Committee. I recommend it to everyone. He talks about the systems failure of states, diplomacy, humanitarian response and law.
It will not surprise noble Lords that I will highlight the business about the failure of law. A number of years ago, in 2013, I was involved in the creation of a report on climate change and human rights. It became so clear that we would create a sort of cauldron of people movement if we did not act promptly to the emergency of climate change, because people would be forced to move.
David Miliband speaks to the failure of diplomacy, the failure of peacekeeping, which we heard about from others, and the reduction in peace treaties. We used to work hard at creating these, but last year there were only seven efforts to create peace in conflicted areas.
On the failure of law, we have seen a retreat from international law. When the UN was inaugurated in 1945, Clem Attlee described the UN charter as
“our first line of defence”.
He meant that it would be our first line of defence against the abuse of power and that we were, of course, reminding everyone that the rights of people and individuals who suffer, not just the rights of states, are so important. The creation of that rules-based order is now under threat. So we need more internationalism. We need to enrich internationalism if there is to be an international response.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on securing this important debate on the root causes—I emphasise “root causes”—of conflicts that lead to the displacement of millions of people around the world.
The devastation of the Second World War and the Holocaust against the Jews and others led to the establishment of the United Nations and the Security Council, with the victor nations as permanent members. It was realised that conflicts result when one group or nation sees itself as superior or tries to impose its will on others. This led to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognises that we are all free and, importantly, equal. Sikh teachings remind us that this equality must also extend to women.
Sadly, these lofty ideals for universal peace were instantly ignored by members of the Security Council. If they were employees in a business, they would have been sacked long ago, not only for neglecting their responsibility but for using their privilege and position to further their own interests. The sobering reality is that members of the so-called Security Council now provide more than 80% of the arms and sophisticated weaponry that fuel horrendous conflict throughout the world, conflict that leaves some 80 million people destitute and homeless. Worse, people in more affluent countries see desperate asylum seekers as a problem rather than as deserving members of one human family. We should remember that in supposedly less civilised times, Jesus and his parents were themselves welcome asylum seekers in the land of Egypt. Wars and suffering of innocents will continue until we see what Jesus Christ, Guru Nanak and others saw: that we are all equal members of one interdependent human family.
Tragically, what passes for religion today, with claims of superiority and exclusive links to God, a God who allows the killing of innocents in his name, has led to religion itself becoming a major cause of conflict. The words of a Christian hymn remind us:
“New occasions teach new duties; Time makes ancient good uncouth.”
We cannot use the mindset of the 20th century to tackle the problems of today. Today, difficult, frank and open debate is urgently needed to make religion what it was intended to be: a cure rather than a cause of conflict. We need to remove dated cultural norms and practices, which often override underlying ethical teachings. We need to recognise that no one religion has a monopoly of truth and that those not of our faith or of a different complexion are not lesser beings.
Speaking from a Sikh perspective, I believe that the underlying ethical teachings of religion of concern and compassion, and a realisation that our destinies are inextricably entwined, are the key to reducing mindless violence and the suffering of innocents that we see in the world today.
My Lords, a phrase in Deuteronomy 26:5 has long puzzled scholars. It says:
“A wandering Aramean was my father.”
I have no time to consider the strangeness of the text, but the obvious meaning and obvious admission of it is that the Hebrew people themselves were migrants, as the Bible clearly indicates. We can build on that: migration is part of the human story and of human history, and the history of these islands declares it.
I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this important debate and thank him for his impressive introduction. I want also to thank the noble Lord, Lord Singh, a dear friend.
Behind the stark figures that reveal the displacement of millions of people is the misery and suffering of ordinary people who simply want to enjoy life as we do, but this long history of migration is now multiplying into a picture out of control. Something has to be done, and this debate is declaring it. We all have a part to play.
I want to offer two reflections. First, as a patron of Barnabas Fund, I am glad to say that this organisation is already at work with refugees in many parts of the world, including Afghanistan. We are currently attempting to assist several hundred Christians, pastors, converts and Muslims too to asylum in safe countries. Their situation is perilous. I have to say with some regret that our experience is that, in spite of warm noises from our own Government about Christian persecution, no practical targeted assistance is ever offered to persecuted Christians, be they from Syria or from Afghanistan. I wonder whether the Minister might like to offer a reason why this is so. The situation in recent years has plainly got worse, with organisations such as ours simply unable to address the basic issue of survival that many refugees, many of them children, face.
About a week ago, Gordon Brown said that we have got to act for moral reasons. As some speakers here have already mentioned, it is also in our own self-interest to do so. This reminded me of Archbishop William Temple’s dictum during the war years, that:
“The art of government … is the art of so ordering life that self-interest prompts what justice demands.”
Both thinkers are absolutely right. Allowing the situation to get worse is simply irresponsible.
A second point to note is the unspoken fear among us all in stable societies that we might ourselves be unsettled by the consequences of allowing large numbers from other ethnic communities to settle among us. I recognise the worry, which to some degree we all share. Clearly, those who join us must recognise that they have to embrace the values, traditions and history of the host nation, just as the host nation will allow the customs of the migrants a place among us. We are enriched by the presence of those who have joined us in recent decades. I hope that the United Kingdom will give a firm moral lead as the nations have to respond to the crisis facing the human family today.
My Lords, once again, I thank the noble Lord for introducing this topic and, once again, I am sorry to say that I am not going to join in his idealistic, very sincere and moral teaching. I do not think that the second part of his proposition, that we should get some international movement to do something about this problem, will do any good, because we already have enough international agreements that have not done any good. I have spoken on this before.
Basically, the international system is a failure. As the noble Lord, Lord Singh, said, the United Nations, whatever its ideals, created an institution in which there are five permanent members, at least two of which right now, China and Russia, are creating refugees and the likes of the Uighur crisis. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, said: do not worry about doing good; just stop creating problems.
One root cause of the refugee problem is the break-up of the Ottoman Empire—I am sorry to go back 100 years. The break-up of the Ottoman Empire and the abolition of the Caliphate created a huge problem in the Middle East, and a lot of our refugee problems are in the Middle East—I do not have time to go into all this.
Let me come to Afghanistan. Who created the Taliban? We did. Afghanistan was a nice, peaceful place; it had a king—and then, the Russians decided to go in and make it communist. Then, of course, the Americans decided that we had to fight the godless communists, so they armed the Taliban with drugs and guns. The Taliban were our own creation. We say, “We don’t like you because you are against women.” Again, I do not have time to go into it, but the roots of the Taliban are in the mid-19th century and the Deoband school of Islamic theology, which is in India. Everybody should have known what the religion, the theology, of those people is, but we armed them, and now we say, “Oh, my God, how did this happen?” Well, we did it.
There has been so much Christianity hovering around today. I feel like saying that the first murder registered in the Bible is in the family, and I feel like Cain. “I am not my brother’s keeper. It is bad enough that I murdered him, but I am not going to do anything further please—get me out of here.”
Please do not do anything. The idea that we, the United Kingdom, are going to cure the world’s problems by taking our foreign aid from whatever it is right now to 0.7% is so arrogant that I cannot begin to think why we do it. We have enough problems at home. Get rid of the food banks—that will help.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in offering the warmest congratulations to my noble friend on securing this debate and his characteristically comprehensive introduction. I refer to my interests in the register as the founder of the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust—HART—which works with courageous partners in remote locations, who risk their lives to provide life-saving aid for displaced communities. Time allows only two examples: Nigeria, and the historically Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.
In Nigeria, almost 3 million civilians are internally displaced due to insurgency and conflict. The UK Government’s response has been focused predominantly on the north-east, but has not provided aid to the Middle Belt, one of the regions worst affected by Islamist attacks. We have visited many times and personally witnessed the results of massacres, atrocities and forced displacement. HART receives almost daily reports of killings, rape, abductions, enslavement, land-grabs and mass forced displacement in the Middle Belt. Our local partner, Reverend Canon Hassan John, told me that, for over 10 years, displaced villagers have been forced to rely on aid from local churches or NGOs. He said:
“I can say categorically that there has been very little or no aid, not even from the state or Federal Government of Nigeria ... I am not aware of any assistance from the British Government in the central region ... In Southern Kaduna state, at least seven communities have [recently] been attacked. Villagers are forced to move onto the next village. None of these villages have received security or humanitarian assistance. Families in neighbouring villages do what they can to absorb and care for their relatives. In one room, I saw 40 people sleeping on the same floor.”
Will the Minister confirm that Her Majesty’s Government will ensure immediate humanitarian support for displaced people in the Middle Belt? Will he arrange for the Africa Minister to meet colleagues from the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief, of which I am co-chair, to discuss what action has been taken following the group’s report on whether escalating atrocities in Nigeria represent an unfolding genocide?
I turn briefly to Nagorno-Karabakh, where 80% of the historically Armenian enclave is now occupied by Azerbaijan. In 2020, more than 91,000 people fled to Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh; 88% of them were women and children. More than 40,000 people were deprived of their homes in areas such as the Shushi and Hadrut regions, which are still under the occupation of the Azerbaijani armed forces.
I have had the painful privilege of visiting the region more than 85 times, during the wars in the 1990s and in 2020. Last September, I visited Syunik region in Armenia to witness the suffering caused by Azeri military incursions into Armenian territory, causing displacement of local villagers within Armenia itself. Countless refugees describe the anguish of the loss of loved ones, and Azerbaijan still violates the conditions of the 2020 ceasefire by detaining Armenian prisoners of war and civilians, and perpetrating atrocities, sometimes taking a prisoner’s phone to film horrendous activities, then sending the pictures back to their families.
Refugees also describe the loss of livelihoods, agricultural lands, water resources, and other vital infrastructure. Yet the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh have received almost no support from the British Government. The UN Secretary-General’s official spokesperson in May last year unequivocally indicated that it is Azerbaijan that, despite the calls of the international community, and the UN in particular, has not provided permission for unhindered humanitarian access in Nagorno-Karabakh, and that situation remains the same.
In conclusion, can the Minister confirm that the UK will no longer turn a deaf ear to this cry for help, and will ensure the provision of urgent humanitarian assistance to the thousands of Armenians displaced by war? In both Nigeria’s Middle Belt and Nagorno-Karabakh, the UK has failed to acknowledge, let alone address, the root causes of mass displacement. Perpetrators have carried out atrocities with impunity. There has been no justice or support for victims and their families. I urge the Minister to give greater priority to the problems I have identified and to many others suffering in similar situations.
My Lords, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, commended the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this debate and said that it was prophetic. I agree very strongly with that, and I commend the noble Lord for doing so, too. His powerful contributions in this place are often, depressingly, not just prophetic but based on experience of past mistakes, from which we continually do not learn and which we repeat—including 40 years ago, when he visited Lebanon. I shall be there in two weeks’ time, and I shall no doubt see many of the pressures that existed at the time in a tinderbox area. Equally, it is a country, as my noble friend indicated, where one in eight of the population is not Lebanese. There is a great complexity there, with great generosity, openness and tolerance, in an area of economic vulnerability and conflict. My noble friend also gave the illustration of the case whereby we in the UK, by our direct hands, have caused many of the concerns, especially of those who have worked with us and supported us in Afghanistan. Her brilliant speech was made much earlier than she expected, and it was more brief but brilliant nevertheless.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, gave some figures on the scale of the crisis. My noble friend called them “breathtaking”, and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, called them “vast” and “shameful”. They all are. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, commended the Norwegian Government and the excellent GRID report, funded by that Government, on internally displaced people in 2020. It provides data that is even more alarming. We have been distracted here because of the pandemic, perhaps understandably, but we have neglected to recognise, according to the GRID report, the 40.5 million new people displaced in 2020, 9.8 million by conflict and 30.7 million by disasters. The average time after a disaster for people to return to their homes is five years, so what is happening in 2020 will have to be addressed for a number of years to come. This is a growing problem, not a receding one.
When natural calamity strikes, people are desperate to return home; they want shelter, food and services—and, when they are restored, they are very keen to return to their homes. When conflict scorches their homelands, people flee, but they want to return when safety and security are restored. Regrettably, the average time for returnees because of conflict displacement is 13 years. On climate, weather-related events were responsible for 98% of all disaster displacement recorded in 2020. Disaster resilience is therefore essential, and yesterday’s Question on Typhoon Odette was testament to this.
Can the Minister clarify an answer that he gave yesterday to the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, who referred to a review carried out by my late noble friend Lord Ashdown on behalf of Andrew Mitchell, as Secretary of State, on disaster resilience? The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, asked:
“Can the Minister therefore tell us exactly the effects of the cuts announced to the development programme on the money spent on disaster resilience?”
“I do not think it is possible to provide an exact answer”, and the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes intervened to ask “Why not?” To that the Minister said:
“Because I do not think that answer exists, and it is hard to assess.”—[Official Report, 5/1/2022; cols. 570-1.]
The very same Minister was trumpeting at COP 26 what the Government claimed was additional support for disaster resilience. Can the Minister be clear as to what the position is? At the moment it is opaque.
In a previous debate on development policy, the Minister and I had an interaction with regard to multilateral support. We know that for systematic and sustained responses, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has called for, one of the most effective ways of providing this is through a multilateral response, whether through UNDP or UNOCHA on the ground or co-ordinated through the World Bank IDA. This was also evidenced in a report during the time of the coalition Government, commissioned by Andrew Mitchell, which showed the effectiveness of multilateral aid.
In our debate on
“right that that is part of the strategy, but it is not an overall or meaningful cut in real terms … There is plenty of room there for us to redirect some of that funding in a way that we think is strategic.”—[
What the Minister believes is not a meaningful cut in real terms was, I remind the House, £1.8 billion. That was a cut, and it meant that the replenishment of the IDA—an essential fund for disaster resilience in developing countries and highlighted specifically by the World Bank and those recipient countries—could not be met, because other countries could not meet the UK shortfall. I believe that a 55% cut is meaningful, and I hope that the Government will reconsider this for the next replenishment. The scale of the problem will not be alleviated in the period when we are cutting our aid.
Let us not forget that the convergence of conflict and disasters has led to people being displaced for a second or third time. Many of those fleeing flooding in Yemen have already been displaced by conflict—and the UK Government’s response was to cut aid to the people of Yemen by 60% without carrying out an impact assessment. Drought in Somalia has forced people to flee to urban areas, putting them at greater security risk, which the Government themselves have said is the greatest priority area of concern. According to DevTracker today, however, the support that the UK provided in 2019-20—£260 million—is now, believe it or not, going down to £20 million in 2023-24. That is an astronomically cruel cut for the people of Somalia. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, called for leadership. This is the polar opposite of global leadership, and I hope that the Government will think again.
Internally displaced persons add a greater complexity. My noble friend highlighted the situation in Lebanon, but many other countries have hosted. The fact that many people flee within their own boundaries is often neglected. The number of those who fled conflict within Iraq reached 3 million people. If we visualise the entire population of Wales having to resettle en masse to the Midlands over a period of five years, what pressure would that put on our own infrastructure and services? We should have a little more sympathy for the many countries that have had to cope with this. What was the UK response? To cut support for Iraq from £50 million to £3 million. Can the Minister say why?
The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, rightly mentioned the Yazidis. Before Christmas, I was in north Iraq and met Vian Dakhil, the Yazidi MP. Of those who have returned within Iraq, 280,000 Yazidis remain displaced—that is 70% of the Sinjar population. Of those in the Duhok camp in north Iraq, 99% are Yazidi. There is still no formal way of officially documenting the Yazidi genocide, which acts against building confidence for returning. Still the injustices are repeated for many Yazidis, and there is a lack of implementation of the Sinjar agreement. If the Minister responds to anything that I have said today, I hope that it will be on the UK increasing support for the implementation of the Sinjar agreement for the Yazidi people, who continue to have injustices levelled against them.
The scale of this is colossal and will remain with us. The UK is diminishing, not increasing, our level of support. However, I am glad that the noble Lord started this debate not simply by talking about the global figures. He named those children and individuals who have perished in our waters at the same time as I was travelling to Kurdistan. They were seeking shelter here in the UK because they wanted the same as what we want for our own people. They are our brothers and our sisters and our children, and we should be thinking of them and supporting them in exactly the way that we should be supporting our own people.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for initiating this debate and for being absolutely consistent in the message that he has put across in numerous debates over the last couple of years—namely, the need for us to be consistent as a country in our policy on human rights and refugees.
It is now over 70 years since the refugee convention was ratified and, with 82 million people still displaced, the international co-operation is as strong as ever. I totally agree with my noble friend’s words that that requires us to invest more in international co-operation, not less.
Conflict, persecution and human rights abuses are all drivers which force people away but, increasingly, and as we have heard in this debate, many of them face additional challenges due to Covid-19, disasters, extreme weather and other effects of climate change. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, is absolutely right: it is not just refugees who move countries; internally displaced people are a huge issue. The UNHCR reported that, by mid-2021, the number of people internally displaced due to conflict and violence had risen to nearly 50.9 million, almost 5% more than the 48.6 million reported at the end of 2020.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, is absolutely right that political leaders from around the world must work through multilateral institutions, particularly the United Nations. I agree with him that one area that we could focus on is strengthening the mandate of the United Nations Secretary-General, ensuring that he can bring things to the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly, creating greater transparency. We should also be supporting his call and work for greater co-operation and engagement with civil society. Civil society is often the guarantor. When Governments fail to protect their citizens, it is civil society that is there to stand up. I absolutely agree with the references to the responsibility to protect. We should not forget that in 2005, when that principle was adopted, every single country on the United Nations Security Council adopted it—including China and Russia. We should focus more on that.
A commitment in last year’s integrated review was the shortly-to-be-published international development strategy. To deal with the root causes of conflict and instability, defence, diplomacy and development must go hand in hand. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, is right that we should ensure that the strategy contains a clear commitment to conflict-affected and fragile states. It should be at the heart of the new strategy. We have seen in Ethiopia how quickly incredible levels of development can fall apart when conflict re-emerges. In Afghanistan, we have seen how people’s lives can be turned around in a matter of months, despite progress over 20 years. We must retain our commitment to conflict prevention and peacebuilding.
Being a force for good in the world also means putting forward a vision for a more secure and prosperous future, delivering on the UN’s global goals and fulfilling our commitment to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable—not leaving anyone behind. The global health, climate and humanitarian crises should result in more attention being given to the critical role that development plays in tackling global challenges. The global refugee crisis requires a joined-up strategic approach.
As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said today and in the debate on the international development strategy just before Christmas, the best way to help people is to ensure that they can have a better life in the countries from which they originate. International development is key to unlocking many of the other strategic and diplomatic aims of the FCDO. I hope the Minister will focus more on the strategy that will be published shortly.
Africa has witnessed the most new internal displacements as conflict and violence flared up in several countries across the continent. Some 1.3 million new displacements were recorded in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Ethiopia, conflict in the Tigray region and increasing insecurity in other parts of the country have triggered more than 1.2 million displacements. As we have heard, the situation in Mozambique’s northern province of Cabo Delgado continues unabated, uprooting just over 120,000 people. In addition, large new displacements occurred in the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Nigeria.
Currently—I re-emphasise the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis—the FCDO’s bilateral aid budget to countries in Africa is at a 15-year low. At the time when we should be focusing on them, we are turning our backs. Many of the world’s poorest countries are on the African continent. I hope the Minister can confirm that the international development strategy to be published shortly will reaffirm the United Kingdom’s commitment to Africa and increase aid to the continent in real terms.
Internal displacement also surged in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in Afghanistan, as we have heard. I would also like to particularly mention Myanmar. The military coup in Myanmar ignited further widespread violence, bringing the total number of internally displaced people to an estimated 567,000, which is 54% higher than the 370,000 at the end of 2020. This fresh fighting has forced people to flee across into Thailand. I hope the Minister will reassure us that he will urge the Thai Government to provide the necessary humanitarian assistance following the violence which has resulted in that wave of refugees. We also need to strengthen and better resource the UNHCR and to accelerate applications for Myanmar nationals in countries where they are at risk of being deported back to Myanmar.
As we have heard in the debate, particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, the United Kingdom’s domestic policy towards refugees and asylum seekers is broken. The processing system has imploded, with the share of applications that received an initial decision within six months falling from 87% in 2014 to 20% in 2019. On asylum accommodation, the Government are increasingly looking towards dehumanising options, including sending people to offshore processing sites. Meanwhile, the High Court ruling that the Home Office’s decision to house asylum seekers in Napier barracks was unlawful was a shameful verdict for the Home Secretary.
Unfortunately, processing and accommodation are only the tip of the iceberg. We have heard horrific stories of people trying to find a safe passage across seas. A failure to solve the problem of dangerous boat crossings is putting lives at risk and is a wider symptom of the Government’s inability to offer safe routes of passage. The Nationality and Borders Bill offers only unworkable solutions and undermines international humanitarian conventions at a time when co-operation is most needed.
Ultimately, none of these issues can be properly addressed without international co-operation. We need a clear articulation of the United Kingdom’s global leadership role, a cross-government approach to responding to humanitarian and peacebuilding activities, a plan to ensure that economic systems do not perpetuate poverty and a clear commitment to ensure vaccine equality. The United Nations, the UNHCR in particular, provides a legitimate forum for finding agreement and I hope the Minister will focus on those institutions today.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this debate and for his extremely powerful words in starting it. I also thank all other noble Lords for their insightful contributions.
A surge in violent conflict since 2010 has prompted historically high levels of mass and forced displacement. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said in his opening remarks, the UN refugee agency estimates that the number of forcibly displaced people rose to a record-breaking 82 million during 2020. That is more than 1% of the world’s population, or one in every 95 people, being driven from their homes, some by conflicts and natural disasters, others by hunger, climate change, poverty or persecution. In 2010, that figure was one in every 159 people, so there is little wonder that the international humanitarian system is under strain.
Crises are also becoming increasingly protracted, with around three-quarters of all refugees displaced for more than five years. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, again pointed out, in some cases they are displaced for much longer than that. The pandemic has made things worse. Covid has thrived in the cramped conditions that many displaced people endure and prevented them being able to return home.
It is clear that the international community has an immense and growing task on its hands to support those driven from their homes. I am going to set out some of the actions that the UK Government have taken to address this crisis and outline our work to tackle its root causes.
The UK has a strong track record of helping those who need our protection and assistance, as well as the host communities that give them sanctuary. Despite the seismic impact of the pandemic on the UK economy, the Government remain one of the largest donors in the world. Indeed, we spent more than £10 billion on overseas development assistance last year, making us the third-largest donor in the G7. In answer to comments made by a number of noble Lords, not least the noble Lords, Lord Hannay, Lord Dubs and Lord Purvis, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, Parliament has endorsed a clear pathway to return to 0.7%, which, on current projections, will be by 2024-25. I do not think it is out of place to say that there is a strong feeling that, as soon as those conditions are met, we must immediately return to 0.7%.
Displaced people are, of course, a huge priority for our overseas aid and for the international development community. Humanitarian assistance is one of the Foreign Secretary’s top priorities for the FCDO. Our work to support displaced people and host countries, and to champion international humanitarian law, is central to our efforts to build a global network of liberty. We have led the way in forging innovative solutions to refugee crises, championing a longer-term approach, and helping shape the Global Compact on Refugees, including with our pioneering responses in Jordan and Ethiopia.
The UK is one of the largest donors to the agencies working on the front line. We provided £29 million in core funding last year to the UN refugee agency, £25 million to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and £37 million to the World Food Programme. This helped agencies with rapid responses, staff training and accountability. Our support also goes far beyond funding. We play a central and influential governance role via these agencies’ executive committees and through our UN reform agenda. We also use our global network to carry out humanitarian diplomacy and support people directly through our own programmes.
In response to the increasingly drawn-out nature of crises and the years of strain they put on host communities, we have worked with international partners on innovative longer-term solutions. Our focus is on a holistic approach, restoring dignity and offering refugees a viable future while supporting their hosts. As the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, both said, this approach has won global acceptance through the internationally agreed Global Compact on Refugees. To reassure them both, the UK remains absolutely committed to the compact. It aims to help refugees stay near their homes and to support host communities by investing in education, job creation and economic growth. Our commitment to the global compact is reflected in our country programmes, including our contribution of more than £320 million to the Rohingyas in Bangladesh since the crisis began four years ago, which has provided life-saving food, healthcare and sanitation for refugees. It has also assisted vulnerable neighbouring countries.
The conflict in Syria, which a number of noble Lords raised, has been one of the largest crises in history in terms of displacement. In response to this, we have provided more than £2 billion of support to 5.5 million refugees and their host communities since 2012. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, our support in Syria has direct impacts and benefits for Yazidi communities, who have perhaps been on the receiving end of more horrific abuse than almost anyone else. I will have to ask the relevant Minister to respond on his question around the Sinjar agreement and get back to him; I am afraid I do not know the answer to that.
In northern Iraq, we continue to work with humanitarian agencies and Iraq’s Government to ensure that displaced persons can return home in a safe, dignified and voluntary manner. Meanwhile, in Yemen, the UK has contributed over £1 billion of humanitarian assistance since the start of the conflict. This supports the most vulnerable groups, including those who have had to flee their homes.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, remarked on the rapidity with which things have deteriorated in Ethiopia as an example of how things can unravel incredibly quickly in unexpected parts of the world. In Ethiopia we have provided more than £76 million of humanitarian aid since the start of the conflict in Tigray. This includes food and water for the most vulnerable communities across northern Ethiopia. We will also deliver health, mental health and psychosocial support to around 40,000 displaced persons. Very briefly, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, I cannot, obviously, go into details around the international development strategy, but I can tell him that our strategy will reaffirm very clearly our commitment to Africa. I am sure we will discuss—and perhaps debate—the issue in due course.
The worsening humanitarian situation in Afghanistan is also hugely concerning; I note the comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. We are doubling our humanitarian and development assistance this financial year to £286 million. This is providing life-saving food and emergency health services, shelter, water and hygiene services. The increase has also boosted our support to the UN’s regional response and to the neighbouring countries that are hosting many of those refugees.
Resettlement to stable countries is clearly a hugely important strand of the global compact. In the UK, since 2015, we have resettled more than 25,000 men, women and children seeking refuge from persecution. We have issued more than 39,000 visas under the refugee family reunion rules, around half of which were to children.
In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and a number of other noble Lords, the Government’s Afghan citizens resettlement scheme will provide up to 20,000 vulnerable people with a safe and legal route to resettle in the UK. I think that makes it the most generous such scheme in this country’s history. It is worth reiterating that, in the space of just two weeks, Operation Pitting—I hope I have that right—brought 15,000 people to safety in the UK. Working in incredibly difficult circumstances, a very large number of people were moved, in record time, to positions of safety. We are working with the UNHCR to design and open up that scheme so that it is more appropriate for the ever-changing circumstances, and we will be able to provide more details on that very soon.
The scheme I described earlier will also prioritise those who have assisted UK efforts in Afghanistan and stood up for our values, such as democracy, women’s rights, freedom of speech and the rule of law. It will focus on the most vulnerable people, such as women and girls, and members of minority groups. Under Operation Warm Welcome, we are helping Afghans arriving in the UK to rebuild their lives, find work, pursue education and integrate within their new local communities. Since 2015, the UK has assisted more people through resettlement schemes than any other country in Europe.
Children, of course, need to be at the heart of our work; that point has been made in a number of speeches today. They make up 42% of all displaced people, and we know that children in fragile and conflict-affected countries are more than twice as likely to miss out on school compared with their counterparts in peaceful nations. If these children are to have any hope and the chance of a fulfilling and prosperous future, it is essential that we support them to continue that education.
That is why in Nigeria, for example—I say this partly in response to the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox—our humanitarian programmes have enabled more than 200,000 conflict-affected children to access education. With more than 2 million internally displaced people in Nigeria, our £425 million humanitarian programme is also supporting 1.5 million people with food assistance and providing access to toilets and clean water.
More broadly, the UK is also a founding member of, and the largest donor to, Education Cannot Wait, the global fund for education in emergencies. We have committed £90 million to the programme from 2019 to 2023. With our support, the programme has helped more than 4.5 million children continue their education over the past three years, through periods of crisis and conflict.
Besides helping those in immediate need, it is crucial—as almost every speech in this very debate has emphasised, and in particular the comments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds—that we address the root causes of displacement. That is absolutely central to our approach. It is not only central to our approach; it is directly in our own interest, as well as being the right thing to do. Addressing the triggers—from conflict to climate change, and from poverty to abuse of human rights—is a key strand of our integrated review, which sets out our plans to address these challenges over the next 10 years. We will use all the political, security, development and trade levers we have to reduce tensions, end conflicts, build stability, protect freedoms and spread opportunity and prosperity across the globe. The multilateral system is central to that approach, but we will not be constrained by its limitations.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, helpfully provided the environmental context, which is a looming and growing context for so many of the movements that have been described today. She talked about the need to clear up our supply chain and about commodities causing deforestation and contributing further to climate change and displacement. Cleaning up our supply chains is a key commitment that we have made, and we are at the early stages of this. Much of what was discussed and agreed at COP involved the need to break the link between commodities and deforestation and to put stopping deforestation at the heart of our global response to climate change. I commend her also for her campaign—which she did not mention today—for the recognition of ecocide, which I think has a direct bearing, and certainly will have an even bigger bearing as the years go by, on the issues we are discussing today.
Conflicts will continue to be the main driver of displacement, and we will do all we can to prevent, manage and resolve them. The UK has contributed over £160 million to the UN peacebuilding fund since its inception, and in May last year, we announced a further £10 million for this financial year. We continue to work with UN agencies, funds and programmes, as well as international financial institutions and important regional bodies such as the African Union. This will help to ensure effective and sustainable approaches to reducing conflict in fragile states.
For lasting peace, we know that women must have a seat at the table; the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, made this point very powerfully in her speech. We know that when women participate in peace processes, there is a 35% increase in the probability of a peace agreement lasting at least 15 years. That is why the UK Government are leading proponents of the women, peace and security agenda.
To reduce forced displacement, we will continue to stand up for human rights and international humanitarian law and use our influence to hold to account those who violate them. As part of our efforts to defend human rights, as noble Lords will know we introduced a new system of Magnitsky sanctions in July 2020 to target human rights violators and abusers around the world. We have used the global human rights sanctions regime to designate nearly 80 individuals and entities involved in some of the most notorious human rights violations in recent years. That includes government officials and bodies in Belarus, Myanmar, China, Russia and North Korea. The UK also works with partners at the UN to target human rights violations and abuses. For example, we implement UN sanctions against individuals involved in human trafficking and human rights abuses against migrants in Libya.
Sexual violence is another recurrent cause of displacement. Since the launch of our ground-breaking Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative in 2012, successive UK Governments have transformed the way the international community deals with those crimes. We have sent more than 80 deployments of UK experts to affected countries. We have trained more than 17,000 police and military personnel on sexual violence issues. We have also committed more than £50 million to support numerous projects around the world. In November, the Foreign Secretary launched a major new global campaign to stop sexual violence against women and girls in conflict around the world. She is bringing together partners to condemn rape and sexual violence in conflict as a red line. This year, the UK will also host a global conference in which we hope to unite the world in action.
Before the Minister moves on, as he rightly said, all those pernicious elements in Africa have been and continue to be present in Nigeria. The Government have cut their support from £250 million, as the Minister said, but he did not say that it will go down to just £60 million in 2023. Has an objective developmental system of assessment been carried out to inform that cut, given the fact that this pressure is ongoing, or are these simply arbitrary cuts?
The noble Lord made the point well in his speech that there have been cuts across the board as a consequence of the move from 0.7% to 0.5%. That involved lots of difficult decisions; it is not something that I think most people welcomed. We have a pathway that will return us to 0.7%, hopefully in the next couple of years. As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, when we publish our development strategy we will reaffirm the importance and centrality of the continent of Africa in our vision and plans. I very much hope that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, will be reassured by the report when it is published, but I cannot go into the details at this point.
As a number of noble Lords have rightly said, all the science tells us that climate change and environmental destruction are likely to become a bigger and bigger reason for the increasing movement of people in the coming years; the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds, the noble Lords, Lord Dubs and Lord Loomba, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, made similar points. The UK has played a leading role in the global response to climate change. COP 26 made unexpected and really important progress on adaptation and climate finance, which are obviously essential to managing climate displacement. The work that we did in the run-up to COP 26 and the work that we will do this year as the COP president, which will be no less intense than the work that was done last year, are a really positive example of internationalism and in many ways embody what many of us mean by “global Britain”.
Domestically, we have committed to doubling our international climate finance to £11.6 billion over the next five years. We will put a significant chunk of that into helping to restore and protect nature as a serious and central contribution to tackling climate change. Above all, that £11.6 billion will be spent in a way that supports vulnerable countries to make themselves more resilient to climate change, and in doing so we hope to ease future migration pressures.
The tragic truth is that forced displacement is happening on a biblical scale today. Before I make that point, I want to comment on, without necessarily answering, the powerful speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Hayward. He issued a number of important questions to the CEO of Coca-Cola, Mr Quincey, and I encourage Mr Quincey, if he is paying attention to this debate, simply to answer them. It is important that he does.
As I said, forced displacement is happening on a record scale today. All the signs suggest that this will continue and that the trend is upwards. In the face of this terrible human suffering, I am proud that the UK has a strong record of helping those who need our protection. I pay tribute to the generosity of all host nations and communities who welcome those driven from their homes, and to the tireless work of those who support them in the most difficult circumstances. The international community can address need on this scale only through a holistic approach, with countless painstaking political, diplomatic, military and humanitarian interventions. The UK Government are committed to doing all we can—harnessing our political clout, diplomatic expertise, military know-how and humanitarian reach—to support the displaced and give them hope of a viable future.
I thank noble Lords for their comments.
My Lords, I was particularly pleased when I saw that the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, had been asked to reply to this debate in your Lordships’ House. He is well known for painting on a big-picture scale, and undoubtedly he will have heard from all the speeches in the debate that this is a canvas that gives him enormous scope to use the position he is now in, the ability he clearly has and the idealism and pragmatism that he brings together.
There is nothing wrong with having good, altruistic motives and combining them with self-interest. That has been a theme throughout this passionate, knowledgeable, rich, reasoned and urgent debate. We have heard a lot about the push factors, in comparison with yesterday’s debate, which focused on the pull factors. We have heard about the role of global corporations; the displacement of widows, children and women; the consequences of the breakdown of the rule of law and international institutions; the consequences of dehumanising and stigmatising refugees; the need for wise statecraft and diplomacy in combating conflict; the central role of our development programme; Magnitsky sanctions; and individual and collective actions, including boycotts. Many specific places and ideas have been mentioned.
I am struck that we were encouraged to think not just about percentages but about individual people. We were reminded that it comes down to the one in 95 people in the world who are displaced. We heard a lot about systems failure, not least the failures of the Security Council and its role in creating insecurity. We heard about leadership and the need for more international resolve, not less.
This has been a very good debate, but what we do about it as we go away from your Lordships’ House today is what will really count.